Moving Forward in 2019

Dear Western Community:

Happy New Year, and welcome back to campus!  I hope that you had a great holiday break, with ample opportunity to recharge and enjoy time with family and friends. 

As we enter winter quarter and a new year, I’d like to share some of the priorities that are of highest importance to me, and invite you to share your thoughts, suggestions and questions on these priorities below.  I hope you’ll check back often to learn about progress and share your suggestions as we move forward together in a spirit of determination to make lasting change and progress of which we can all be proud.

Here are the top priorities I see for Winter 2019:

Working with students of marginalized identities to productively address their expressed needs and concerns.  Since the student demonstration in the President’s Office and the student-led forum in the beginning of December, I have reflected a great deal with other senior administrators about the many distressing student stories that we heard, the ways that Western must immediately, and in the longer term, improve its policies, procedures, and climate to address unmet student needs and concerns, and how our community can work together productively to create inclusive and lasting culture change. 

Let me start by saying that Western is absolutely committed to creating a more inclusive and equitable community.  This is my highest priority.  There are specific goals and metrics about equity and inclusion embedded in our strategic plan which address many of the needs advanced by students at the forum in December.  Several university-wide initiatives are underway to advance these goals, though I will be the first to admit that we must do a better job of engaging students and faculty members in solutions, and we must do a better job of communicating how these goals are progressing.  The rate of change at Western with respect to equity and inclusion has been slow, starting with access, and we have missed opportunities to accelerate it.  We need to own that.  And we will only succeed in achieving our aspirations to become the kind of community we want to be if every member of the Western community is committed to being part of the change. 

Since the end of December, I have been meeting, and I will continue to meet with, clubs and academic affiliation groups for marginalized students to learn more about their unique needs and concerns, and the ways that Western can address them.  Going forward, Vice President Melynda Huskey and I will be meeting with these groups several times throughout the academic year, as I believe these more intimate dialogues provide the best opportunities to learn about unique concerns and work together productively to address them.  And, we will be increasing the frequency and clarity of communication with campus about the progress on actions we have taken, and plans for future action.  We will continue to focus and refine our agenda on activities that bring lasting change.  Our current work includes revisiting our procedures and protocols around discrimination complaints and interim suspensions and communications; expanding the Provost’s Faculty Diversity and Inclusion Hiring Initiative; and advancing student recruitment and success initiatives.  I encourage you to check this blog regularly for updates on our progress.

Advancing Western’s priorities during the 2019 Legislative Session.  For the upcoming 2019-2021 biennial budget Western has three key priorities:

Competitive compensation for faculty and staff: In order to retain and attract high quality faculty and staff Western has requested $15.3 million to fully fund negotiated contracts with classified staff and to provide a 4% per year compensation increase for all faculty and professional staff.

Expanding STEM capacity: Western is experiencing unprecedented growth in the number of students majoring in STEM degree programs.  At the same time, employers in Washington’s technology sector report a critical need for STEM-educated workers, according to the 2017 Report Card from the Washington State STEM Education Innovation Alliance.  Washington ranks #46 in the nation -- and last among high-tech-intensive states -- in the proportion of high school graduates who go directly to college.  To address this, the Alliance is pressing for expanded postsecondary STEM education and financial aid with a focus on equitable access and retention.  For our part, Western has requested $7.6 million to address high-demand STEM program expansion (Electrical Engineering, Pre-health Sciences and Energy Technology), including pre-advising and cohort support models for improved outcomes for underserved students.

Construction funding for an Interdisciplinary Sciences Building and design funding for a new Electrical Engineering/Computer Science Building: To support expansion in STEM capacity, Western has also requested $60 million for the construction of a 50,000 square foot interdisciplinary science building.  We are also requesting $6.5 million in design funding to plan a 50,000 square foot building to address capacity needs in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.  For this latter building there may also be potential to leverage public-private partnerships for fundraising. 

During the session, Western will also be pursuing funding to improve Career-Connected Learning by expanding career counseling services, funding to address the State’s teacher shortage by increasing the number of WWU education graduates by 200 each year, and funding to update critical wired and wireless networks throughout campus. 

Starting with the Governor’s budget, released in December 2018, which includes funding for two of our capital priorities and approximately half our STEM-focused operational request, we will be working with the legislature to seek full funding for our operational and capital needs.

Advancing the Student Success Initiative, raising money for merit and need-based scholarships, study abroad scholarships, and undergraduate research opportunities.  Reflected in the three core themes of Western’s strategic plan—Advancing Inclusive Success, Increasing Washington Impact, and Enhancing Academic Excellence—is our commitment to the idea that higher education is a public good that should be accessible to all qualified students.  In order to make this idea a reality for more students, the WWU Foundation is committed to raising at least $10 million over the next three years for merit- and need-based scholarships, study abroad scholarships, and scholarships for undergraduate research opportunities. 

Completion of the Institutional Resource Modeling Process, including further exploration of WWU expansion on the Kitsap and Olympic Peninsulas.  This fall I charged a President’s Advisory Committee on Institutional Resource Modeling, including representation from faculty, staff, students, and administrators, to work on a resource planning process to ensure that Western’s new strategic plan is connected to a realistic sense of the funding required to advance its goals and objectives.  That committee has been working on areas critically important to the achievement of strategic plan goals such as increasing retention and graduation rates, increasing research and creative activity, and addressing current shortfalls in operational funding.  Working with the professionals in academic affairs, business affairs, and enrollment and student support services, this broadly representative committee is helping to guide the development of a set of resource scenarios that will inform the ways Western approaches revenue generating strategies.  The final work of the committee will be presented to the Board of Trustees at its regular meeting in June.  You can learn more about the Committee’s change, membership, timeline, processes, and communication plan at https://provost.wwu.edu/resource-modeling.

This winter a new working group within the Resource Modeling Committee will be created to develop a set of resource scenarios related to the feasibility of expanding Western’s presence on the Kitsap and Olympic Peninsulas, directly related to the strategic plan theme of Increasing Washington Impact.  This follows on the recent completion of a feasibility study funded by the Legislature in the 2018 session.  Starting in May and continuing throughout the summer and fall, Western worked with a consultant to document current and future higher educational needs on the Peninsulas, convene regional stakeholders, and explore the feasibility of several higher education delivery options.  While the feasibility study report confirmed several themes consistent with Western’s experience delivering education for over two decades in Port Angeles, Bremerton, and Poulsbo, it was determined that a more comprehensive assessment of the capacity and resource needs for successful expansion was required.  The institutional resource modeling process already underway provides an ideal environment to conduct this additional assessment.  We will also engage our community college partners on the Peninsulas in order to address systemic issues throughout the K- 16 pipeline related to academic preparedness, aspirational awareness, and affordability.  The complete Peninsulas expansion feasibility study report and more information about next steps is available on the Provost’s website: https://provost.wwu.edu/wwu-peninsulas-feasibility-study.

These are only a few of the many important initiatives and priorities underway at Western.  The thing they all have in common is a commitment to inclusive student success and increasing our impact in the state.  I am continually inspired by the energy and engagement of our campus community in making Western a better place, and I am grateful for the partnership among our students, faculty and staff in making lasting progress.  I welcome your thoughts and ideas, and know that we will make Western stronger by working together, and being united in our purpose.

Sincerely,

Sabah

Comments

There is no department or program offered on campus that provides resources for pregnant students.
It is not considered covered under the disability resource center. Nor does Student Outreach Services or the Women's center have answers.
I feel parking is a large issue for pregnant students because if you have a C lot parking permit but classes in the Humanities building for example that is a long ways to walk when you're in the 3rd trimester of pregnancy.
Furthermore, there is no accommodations for students test taking other than arranging it with the professor and what is covered my Title IX (such as no discriminating).
Also, the breast feeding areas on campus should be more accessible. Signing up for a time and checking out a key isnt really convenient because babies decide when they want to eat, not based off a scheduled time.
It would be nice to at least have a place to go to get answers on resources.

Haley, I want to thank you for your comment. I have had two pregnancies/children during my tenure as an employee here and must agree that this campus is woefully behind when it comes to resources for breastfeeding parents.

Boost

Also, are there note taking resources for mothers that bring their children? A mother is likely to have their hands full and having someone, like a classmate, take notes for them would be great.

As Earth continues to be assaulted by human overreach, greed, and myopia, and given that our university has the oldest environmental college in the country, why not even a peep about addressing climate change? This can and must be done at every level. We need to publicly and broadly assert that that climate responsibility is the core of our mission, commit to reinvesting our investments portfolio out of fossil fuels as soon as possible, and work together to make a healthy planet central to college and department curriculum as well as WWU non-academic affairs. We are not dealing with "just one more issue." As we face both present and future suffering and mass extinctions, delay and lip service are unacceptable.

As U.S. governance grinds to a halt - out of timidity to call tyranny for what it is becoming, obligatory amnesia that is encouraged by power structures and vapid media coverage, and public fixation and fear of bullying and tantrums that mask as leadership - the President of Western has an obligation to assert leadership and courage of our University in confronting falsehoods, affirming that policies must be based on facts and science, and preparing students for lives of activism and civic responsibility. We need your voice not only in speaking truth to misguided assertions of power, but also in affirming the commons, democracy, and wellbeing for all.

hi james,
I totally feel your points here. The administration and student body both need to be treating this as a serious issue. And in a lot of ways we are, and deserve credit for that. I know a lot of students who are active in composting, freecycling, walk/use public transit, are vegetarian, all the ways we're told to reduce our carbon footprint.

(If you want my hot take there, I think reducing how much plastic you use daily, is as important as calculating some 'carbon number' -- a best guess based on statistics. But both are important and not too hard!)

The campus also has many classes in sustainability, has completely transitioned vehicle design into ecars, hosts sustainability design challenges, and has many arts/music programs relating climate change and it's effects to us on a relatable, emotional level.

But we are still seeing these accelerating changes, based on unrelenting destruction of natural environments.

There are many ways to get involved on and off campus. I hope to see y'all out there in the trenches, you really build up a great feeling of comrade when you're fighting the collapse.

Do you track retention and graduation rates of students with disabilities specifically? If not, why not?

To give more context, I've seen many of my peers with depression suffer academic and financial consequences as a result of their illness, such as class failure and other matters which affect their financial aid status and, therefore, their ability to graduate. Given that a significant proportion of our students struggle with depression, is anything specifically being done to specifically monitor their graduation rates?

Much thanks,
Serena

I'm happy that there are several new initiatives regarding diversity. I certainly think we can do more to attract and retain diverse faculty. To increase retention, especially among URM faculty, the following could also be considered:

1) Develop a fund to (a) pay for URM hires, essentially giving departments and additional faculty line, and (b) pay for spousal hires of diverse faculty at any point in their careers (ie. an actual Hiring Initiative for Dual-Career Couples). Report yearly on successful/unsuccessful hires.

2) Provide monetary rewards for time spent advising diverse students or serving on committees in need of diverse representation; travel funds for mentoring and networking; and junior faculty meeting groups;

3) Provide central funds to enhance the salaries of outstanding underrepresented faculty whose salary is significantly below market;

4) Enhance recognition for URM faculty excellence at the college level, including appointments to endowed chair positions;

5) Provide a program to help URM faculty buy a home in Bellingham and establish community connections.

6) Monitoring and reporting on pay equity of URM faculty.

I think these considerations, and certainly others, will help hire and retain URM faculty such as myself.

Regards,
Dr. Bruna
Assistant Professor of Anthropology
http://SeanBruna.com

Dear Sabah, and to any one reading this-
May these words ring resonant in your heart some of the deep truth I intend. May you also feel some of the sorrow that is woven in these words as well.

While reading the goals I couldn't help but think, what about future generations? What obligation and responsibility do wealthy institutions like WWU have to enact equity in a TRUE way?

This current addiction to STEM and electronic technology will not save us from the fact that 80% of the globe has been touched/decimated/ravaged, and subverted to human needs with little to no regard to our non-human relations. The unspoken belief/philosophy in WWU's mission and vision continues to be one predicated on human-centered long term economic viability and growth. Last I checked growth for the sake of growth is a cancerous tumor.

I am disappointed to note that in the plans going ahead to encourage "diversity" there is no mention of socio-economics. The rural parts of this country, where those with hand skills and land based ways of living are aging out as we speak (the average age of the American farmer is 55, with no young person to take up the hoe or plow), are suffering deeply, as youth flee for "opportunity," (promoted through the crazed insistence on 1-1 devices and social media), in a nebulous race for "more," and "success." As a native of South Carolina, I see this impoverishment keenly, and know that true equity must extend across races to include the impoverished white as well.

Socio-economic status is one of the biggest issues this country faces at this time, as well as climate change. Why are there no concessions or acknowledgement of what is truly at stake? Yes, we need to continue to have uncomfortable conversations about race, but if there is no synthesis tied to WHY these conversations are important, there is no learning. I cannot think of a time in life when my staying comfortable my learning. WWU could lead the way to be a university dedicated to a paradigm shift that centers race, justice, indigenous rights, reparations, resilience, a move away from oil based technologies, and healing in the face of climate change, as the wave of generational trauma that so many are waking up too, floods us. We must move away from raping the Earth as a strategy for human comfort, which is precisely where this emphasis on STEM and on continual growth (what is the end goal exactly?) has already taken us.

If you are reading this I ask you, did you eat today? Did you breathe? Did you drink water? Who grew that food? What do we owe them? We seem to have forgotten the basic care of these very elements that enable us to even have the privilege to dream. As we have moved away from any sense of responsibility and care for our non-human kin, we are destroying ourselves because of it, and stealing from future generations, like my 9 year old son and his peers.

WWU could instead invest this STEM money into the Outback farm, or even better create a college (s) dedicated to teaching humans how to be humans; where students learn basic LIFE skills: caring for different ages, seed saving, mending, making, they learn about birth, sex, death, care for the sick, care for the dying, how to slaughter an animal, plant a garden, fix a car, build a house, how to cook, forage, and make herbal medicine. The education system, as a whole, in the United States is incredibly impoverished when it comes to teaching young people how to fully come alive, which I believe means being in service to the world around them.

We must expand our self centered view of what is a human right to the true understanding, that we have no rights without the health and therefore, rights of trees, rivers, and soil, (to name just a few) as our Coastal Salish neighbors, on whose stolen lands, give each of us as part of the WWU community, any opportunity at all, lived and practiced. Why is there no mention of the debts we, who have the audacity to call these lands our home, owe? As I write this, beautiful old languages that were place based are dying. As I write this pollinators we need in order to continue to eat are dying as well. As I write this a man of color is getting arrested. As I write this a woman is getting beaten.

We have more than enough resources to go around. We have more than enough skills. We even have some wise old ones still alive who know how to enact this vision I speak of. We have what it takes to clean up these messes that has been created. It takes vision and courage that centers the EARTH first, NOT its human inhabitants. Wouldn't it be audacious to see a hallowed academic institution, like WWU, begin to walk a walk of radical remembering of what it takes to live in RIGHT relationship with all those around us?

“When the green hills are covered with talking wires and the wolves no longer sing, what good will the money you paid for our land be then”
― Chief Seattle

To remembering that which feeds us, to obligation, and to courage.

With kind regards,
Eleanor Burke
MIT- Secondary Ed, ELA
Woodring College of Education

Eleanor, That was so eloquently and beautifully written and your points were so applicable for where we are today, both at WWU and globally. Thanks for that thoughtful piece.

One of the main reoccurring expenditures students face is textbooks. This may seem like a small issue, but one of the main difficulties students face is financial. Particularly in STEM, it isn't unusual to pay hundreds of dollars for books each quarter. This expenditure is often exasperated by the use of new editions that contain the exact same information as older editions. Additionally, cheaper or even free resources exist online, in cheaper and smaller books, or again, in older editions. From my experience at Western, Instructors/departments often work closely with publishers and tend not to be open or accommodating to the use of alternate reference material. This is a culture I would very much like to see change as the university strives to support its students.

It continuously discourages many of our classified employees as to the inequities presented by the University's double standard of compensation increases. Four percent raises sought for faculty and exempt employees while the University's HR department refuses to bargain beyond what the State allocates for all classified employees, which is known prior to bargaining our contracts, which is a three percent increase. 4% for exempt vs 3% for classified. This hurtfulness of promoting lesser worth does little to encourage a collaborative environment toward a shared greater goal.

Dear Sabah,

Compared to many college campus' around the country we have a large amount of compost and recycling bins throughout campus; the library, red square, etc, which is fantastic. However, there are a lack of recycling and (especially) compost bins in most academic buildings (especially the older buildings). Often times when I am in an academic building the only waste disposal I can find is for the landfill. Many people including myself make an effort to wait to dispose of their waste until they can find the proper disposal, but many people do not care to make that effort. If there were more compost bins in these buildings (many of which have none) there would be much less waste going into the landfill that could otherwise be composted or recycled. Given that we live in a state where we have access to commercial composting facilities, it would make a large difference to the health of our planet to have more of these bins on campus rather than only a select few. This is a small change, and I know you have many requests for change, but this would make a large difference for our world given how many people attend Western and are throwing out recycling and compostable items daily. Even simply replacing many trash cans with compost bins would be a great and active start to ensuring that no compostable waste goes to the landfill, especially because a large amount of our waste is compostable. Society makes an assumption that most waste is meant to go to the landfill but due to the higher amount of compostable materials as time goes on, this assumption should be changing to most waste being compostable. Again, I understand how many important requests you have on your plate, but I want this suggestion to be out there for you and others to hear. Thank you for reading.

Dear Sabah,

As the title of this reply suggests, my motivation for responding to your blog post is that graduate students continue to feel marginalized by WWU's policies despite the otherwise laudable actions the University is taking to address the issues you discuss. Here I outline specific concerns that have arisen in my discussions with other stduents, relate them to WWU's strategic plan, and inform you that there are many graduate students that would like to work with you and the administration to help design constructive solutions to our concerns.

In this blog post you suggest that WWU is pursuing equity in compensation:

"Competitive compensation for faculty and staff: In order to retain and attract high quality faculty and staff Western has requested $15.3 million to fully fund negotiated contracts with classified staff and to provide a 4% per year compensation increase for all faculty and professional staff."

Graduate TAs have not seen a stipend increase in over a decade while the cost of living in Bellingham has rapidly increased. We currently make approximately $12,000 before taxes. Student fees often cost over $1000 per year (including a fee for access to the health center, which no other University employees are forced to pay). Once taxes and fees are accounted for, this means that the average net TA income is approximately ~$7,500 throughout the entire school year.

Why is WWU raising wages for all employees except TAs?

Yes, graduate TAs also receive a tuition waiver for which we are grateful. However, these are the expectations placed upon TAs in the sciences (estimated time commitment in parentheses):
1) Teach labs, grade assignments (20-25 hrs/wk)
2) Take a minimum course load of 8 credits, B or higher required to remain in program (15 hrs/wk)
3) Work additional jobs to pay rent and buy food (10-30 hrs/wk)
4) Thesis research (whatever time is left)

Overall average time commitment for TAs *before thesis research*: 45-70 hrs/wk

The thesis research is the focus of our education, and it typically requires more time than any other commitment we have as students. So, as you can see above, one of the main reasons for delayed graduated rates of graduate students is the unnecessary financial burden imposed by our miserable stipends. (This delayed graduation rate is the only goal in the specific metrics you cite that are concerned specifically with graduate students - https://provost.wwu.edu/overall-metrics) We are skilled and knowledgable in our fields - if we weren't, we would not be able to secure a TAship in the first place because they are very competitive. We deserve compensation commensurate with our abilities. Low TA stipends subsidize the education of undergraduates at WWU and marginalize our own education because these low stipends mean that we do not have the time to adequately perform all of our academic duties.

Furthermore, graduate students and TAs are an integral part of supporting WWU's primary goal of educating undergraduates. None of the science departments would be anywhere near their current capacity without TAs since we perform the majority of grading and face-to-face teaching in time-intensive lab courses. Graduate students also perform the vast majority of research in those science departments with which I am familiar. We are therefore responsible for supervising the majority of undergraduate research experiences. For example, I have taught over 200 undergraduates in lab courses and have directly supervised the research of 8 undergraduates. We cannot adequately fulfill our role of enhancing the education of undergraduates without a stipend that allows us to focus on our responsibilities at WWU. Instead, as I argued above, almost all graduate students work a an additional job just to make ends meet. As a result, the education of all students at WWU suffers.

Although diversity is one of WWU's primary goals, I do not understand how WWU can expect to recruit a diverse and talented pool of graduate students without offering livable stipends to qualified candidates. Without offering graduate programs that allow students to focus on their education, qualified applicants will look elsewhere. Students who do not have the financial means to support their own education are also unable to attend WWU, further decreasing the diversity of the graduate student body as a direct result of financial burdens placed upon us by the University.

Below I have itemized the specific objectives in WWU's strategic plan that directly apply to the financial burdens placed upon graduate TAs that I have identified above. I am not the only graduate student that feels marginalized and disenfranchised as a direct result of WWU's excessive fees and pathetic TA stipends. Since WWU has already identified these problems as a focus for improvements, it is not clear to me why we are not benefitting from the solutions WWU has begun implementing for these problems. Our needs are not being addressed, and I will not continue to quietly accept whatever scraps the University deigns to throw our way. I do not mean to sound combative; I am only trying to accurately convey that I consider the financial burdens placed upon graduate students by WWU to be entirely unacceptable, especially in light of the wage increases all other employees are receiving.

WWU's strategic plan: https://provost.wwu.edu/files/Strategic%20Plan/final_approved_strategic_...
- Goals 2E, 3A, 3B, 3D, 3E, and 4E -- financial equitability objectives
- Goals 1C, 1D, 1G -- undergraduate training objectives that graduate TAs directly support
- Goals 4B, 4C -- diversity objectives

Sincerely,
Patrick Barnes
barnesp@wwu.edu
Biology Graduate TA

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